Every teacher has spent time thinking about how to make the first weeks of school as exciting, productive, and meaningful as possible—especially when the start of school involves launching our writing workshop. There is so much to do, so little time, and we want to get it just right.
For the book Launching the Writing Workshop, I have taken a camera into my classroom and photographed every element of my writing workshop launch—the room, the mentor texts, students in action, and mostly, the charts. I know from teaching teachers that seeing what charts might look like is so helpful. Every learner, including teachers, needs visuals.
My book will take you from the days before the first bell through the first four weeks of school. Through text and photos you will see how to establish a positive and productive writing workshop with clear expectations. You will learn to build for your students a foundational understanding and appreciation of literature while you create the start of a successful school year.
I love the launch. I love the anticipation, the excitement, the promise of it all.
–Denise Leograndis, author, Launching the Writing Workshop
We want to help you set up your best writing workshop yet! Please enjoy this free sample from Launching the Writing Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide in Photographs. For more information and to purchase the book, click here.
You’ll need to arrange your room so that there is a sitting-on-the-carpet meeting area. The meeting area is a place where you and your students will leave the individual and separate spaces that chairs and desks define and become one on the carpet. The intimacy and purpose of your work together as writers is physically represented by your closeness.
At the meeting area, you’ll be in a chair or on a stool next to an easel with chart paper. Have your easel high enough so all students can see over the heads in front of them to the bottom of the chart paper.
Have your teacher supplies nearby; a basket near the easel will work. You will need these items: colored markers, sticky notes, 1” correction tape, correction fluid, clear tape for repairing tears, highlighter markers, and a pencil and colored sharpies for marking photocopies of mentor texts. A dictionary is handy as well; I model using the same one my students have. That orange-topped glue stick in the basket is repositionable glue—it turns your charts and papers into instant giant sticky notes so you can easily reposition charts on the wall and back and forth from your easel. I will use pushpins to keep a stack of charts secure on my chart wall. A T-square is useful for making straight vertical and horizontal lines on your charts.
Desk arrangement should allow and encourage talk. I have always had group seating—two students facing two students, in clusters of four. However, this year I am using an LCD projector with my computer for the first time, in all my different curricular areas. My students let me know the clusters of four weren’t working. They chose this seating arrangement, front facing and in rows, to allow for easy viewing, but shoulder-to-shoulder for talking with
neighbors. In writing workshops I draft, revise, and edit in front of my students on the big screen. I can type fast, and they can see and hear my thinking, and read my writing. My fast writing on chart paper on the easel is too messy. They move themselves to carpet areas for peer conferring groups. When group deskwork is required, rows are transformed back into
clusters of four with some quick turns of desks. You’ll need to decide what will work best for you and your students.
You will need a chair for conferring. I like this inexpensive model—it folds and unfolds so I can easily move around the room and pull up next to students. Sitting next to your students to confer, rather than calling them to you, honors their work and their processes as writers.
Group Conference Table
Conferring happens in small groups as well as in individual conferences. You could get on the floor with a small group, but I prefer a table where we can spread out and I can still monitor the rest of the room from my position in the corner.
Conferring Clipboard and Conference Top Sheet
I use this quick visual to make sure I am attending equally to every student and not over- or underconferring with any one student. I keep this sheet on top of my assessment sheets on this clipboard. As I confer with a child, I put a letter in the box to indicate where he or she is in the writing process: C for collect, P for plan, D for draft, and so on. The letter notation will keep me from accidentally
conferring with a child during only one part of the writing process.
Conference Assessment Sheet
This is an informal assessment sheet I use to start gathering data about my students’ strengths and areas of needed improvement. After a conference,
I’ll make notes under “What’s done well,” “What’s needed,” and “Conventions.” I immediately use the data gathered under Conventions to plan lessons for
my Language Use and Conventions daily half-hour. Student’s names are not in alphabetical order because before school starts I begin to think about grouping the students for future small-group work and group conferences. I look at their language-learner levels, individualized education plans, 504s, and the writing in their portfolios from the previous school year. For my units after the launch, I add a more precise assessment sheet based on our genre grade-level standards. For more on assessment, see Carl Anderson’s (2005)
The purpose of charts and a chart display area is to capture and show the work of your launch, and subsequent units of study, so students can independently access and re-access the information. This is the longest wall in my room, divided into three sections: Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, and Language Use and Conventions—the three inseparable parts of the literacy curriculum.
Chart Storage: Stacking
If your unit is in progress but you’re running out of space, do a quick chart walk where you ask students which charts they need and which can be covered but still be available. Then stack a few charts using pushpins. Students can easily lift charts to see the one underneath if they still need to access that information.
Chart Storage: Hangers
You can choose to store your charts, grouped together in units of study, on hangers.
Chart Storage: Binders
You can choose to photograph your charts and store them in a single binder that students can access, or photocopy the pages for students to keep in their writing folders. If you’re shooting with a digital camera, store photos as computer files instead of having them printed.
Chart Storage: Storage Boxes
For charts I know I’ll be reusing, I like this space-saver system.
Writers' Supplies: Whole Class
Designate an area where your student writers can find the supplies they need: newsprint (for galley books), yellow draft paper, lined paper for publishing, pencils, blue editing pencils or pens, tape, staplers, sticky notes, scissors, clipboards, dictionaries, thesauruses, and books on grammar and style. In one drawer are red and green tags, cut from construction paper. These can be used to serve as a signaling system—a child who puts out a green tag on his or her desk is requesting a teacher conference. A child with a red tag does not want to stop writing for a teacher conference.
Supplies for Individual Students
Writer’s notebooks await each student on the first day of school, along with folders for different curricular areas. Students need to develop good habits of organization. A personal writing folder is a place where a student can keep all items for one writing project—drafts, editing sheet, photocopied pages of mentor texts. I use inexpensive pocket folders in purple, which look good with yellow draft paper. We use “Quick-Word” as a spelling resource for high-frequency words.
Portfolio and Draft Storage
Students should have easy access to their writing portfolios, where they store and thoughtfully update examples of their best finished pieces. I designate a filing cabinet drawer and have an additional file for each student, behind the portfolio files, where they can store old drafts and other writing work to keep their purple writing folders from overflowing.
Unit of Study Mentor Basket
This basket should be empty on the first day of school. You will be reading books to your students over the course of the launch unit that you and your students will want to refer back to without having to search all around your room for them. In this launch unit and all your subsequent units of study, this basket will serve as a single, easily accessible place to hold your mentor texts.